The service, with a sleek website and photos of beautiful homes, promised to handle all the unpleasantness and stress of finding an apartment.
That sounded pretty good to Mendel Bailey, who was going through a divorce at the time and a disputed past rent balance made it difficult to find a new place to live.
On the recommendation of a friend, he tried an online service, called For Rent Global. The website advertised to Bailey that for a fee, they would “do all the work,” he said, of finding him a place in Charlotte and provide options he could get approved for and move into.
So in late 2020 he paid $450 via Cash App, then another $200 for a deposit, and waited. And waited. And waited.
But he soon was reminded of a cardinal rule:
“If it’s too good to be true....that’s a warning flag not to get involved,” he said. “But then, I was naïve.”
Bailey, 52, is one of 16 complaints about For Rent Global listed with Charlotte’s Better Business Bureau. A copy of Bailey’s complaint shows he lost $650 between the fee to find housing and a deposit.
In Charlotte, where affordable housing is scarce and rents continue to rise, it can be easy to exploit people’s desperation.
Scammers, experts say, can prey on people who might have challenges to finding or affording a place to live, including those with credit issues or evictions that push them to the fringes of the housing market. Also vulnerable are people with limited internet savvy.
Bailey said he tried for months to reach the company to get his money back, leaving “messages after messages after messages, then emailing, emailing, emailing.”
“It’s frustrating because I used all the money that I had,” he said. “I was saving money for the down payment. It was just frustrating, telling me that they were going to help me and they just took the money.”
Lashon Johnson of For Rent Global disputed Bailey’s claims, saying that she works hard to find clients housing who challenges on their records but a no-refund policy is listed clearly on the homepage.
A former employee, who Johnson said she fired last year, was taking money from clients on the side, but said once it was discovered Johnson worked “to rectify the situation with them.”
Shortly after The Charlotte Observer spoke with Johnson and started asking questions about For Rent Global, the service’s website was made private Tuesday.
Among the most common scams occur when people post photos of properties they do not own or manage and pretend to be the landlord, said Tom Bartholomy, president of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Piedmont and Western North Carolina.
They use those images to get security deposits and first month’s rent, or payments for short-term rentals listed on Airbnb.
Customers should consider it “a red flag,” he said, if they are asked to pay by prepaid debit card, Venmo or other service that cannot retrieve your money if the experience goes sour, or if someone is demanding money before showing the property in person.
Nationally, the BBB received nearly 700 complaints this year of rental or vacation home scams this year.
How to spot a scam
Never send money to anyone asking for a security deposit through a prepaid debit card or payment apps like Venmo or Zelle, because funds cannot be retrieved if you are scammed.
Do not send money before you see a property in person.
Run a reverse Google image search on photos used in a listing to see if they are stock images or have been used elsewhere.
Report the listing to the host site, such as Craigslist, Airbnb or VRBO.
Rent spam on Facebook
Scams particularly run rampant on social media. On popular Facebook groups dedicated to finding roommates, sublets and rentals in Charlotte, new posts are often immediately flooded with spam.
Group members frequently post warnings and screenshots of their interactions with suspicious characters. They often have similarities, including sparsely-detailed Facebook pages and stock images.
Then come the evasive messages, refusing to let applicants see the property before sending over a deposit.
It’s become so common, that instead of the usual requests describing the type of housing someone is looking for, one poster deadpanned:
“Hi, I’m looking for a bot to scam me.”
Almost immediately, an account posted a now-dead link promising pet-friendly rentals.